The role Pennsylvania newspapers fill in the communities they serve is a vital one, and readers are strongly aware of that importance.
The most common method for readers to express the value they hold for the paper is through a continued subscription, but what happens when the paper is complimentary for the community or readers want to contribute above and beyond a subscription?
Kelsey Tatge, sales executive for TheBurg, knows it is important to the publication’s fans and readers to show their support. With that in mind, in February 2020 she and her colleagues began developing the structure and preparations for a membership campaign, aptly dubbed Friends of TheBurg.
“It really stemmed from readers contacting us and asking how they can support TheBurg more because they are not business owners who can run ads,” said Tatge.
Tatge said that she and her colleagues decided it was important to meet with local leaders and businesses to determine their interest level and get their insight on the ideas for the membership structure the team had put together. They hosted a meeting in late February at a local co-working space and met with 20 different small business owners as well as other local leaders who had offered support for TheBurg in the past. Tatge said the feedback was invaluable and greatly aided in the development of the program.
“They helped us to flesh out the benefit ideas,” said Tatge. “Hearing from them, it really simplified it for us.”
Tatge says the discussion with the businesses owners and leaders also helped the team reconsider membership levels as supporters felt that the pricing should increase for most levels.
Initially, Tatge and TheBurg team planned to launch the program in June or July; however, with the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdowns it was launched in April. The program included six different annual membership levels, ranging from the base: an individual Friend of TheBurg membership at $30; to the top tier membership level: a community pillar II Friend of TheBurg membership at $1,000. Other membership level options include a family or household membership at $50 annually as well as two small business membership options.
Tatge said they used the Stripe platform for the backend of the program and that it has worked very well so far. All Friends of TheBurg receive at least one tote bag featuring a unique logo for the program that was designed by a local artist. Contributors are also listed on a page devoted to the membership campaign in the publication each month. The top two tiers of membership will also include tickets for events run by TheBurg in the future, as events are able to take place.
Tatge said the community’s response to the campaign was incredibly positive. She said that it in addition to local readers and regular advertisers, the campaign allowed her and her colleagues to open up conversations with small businesses that wanted to support TheBurg but couldn’t afford regular advertising options. The membership benefits for the program were met with a favorable response as well.
“It was really great,” said Tatge. “A lot of the business weren’t looking for much – they really just want to support us.”
Within the first month of the launch, the Friends of TheBurg had taken in more than $22,000 in additional funds for the paper. And as of February 2021, the program has received support from 300 new friends (members). Tatge said those funds made it possible for TheBurg to reach one of the first goals for the program.
“We were able to hire another city reporter,” said Tatge. “We were able to do that in summer 2020.”
Tatge said that while the first month of the program saw the largest growth, it has continued to steadily grow since the launch. She runs monthly email outreach to the email subscription list and continues to investigate local businesses that would be a good fit for community membership. Tatge said the page about Friends of TheBurg in each edition offers a bump in membership each month and the recent holiday season did as well, as some readers were purchasing the membership as a gift for a family member. She said the relationship that TheBurg, as a community newspaper, has with its readers is unique and valuable, which is truly the foundation for the membership program.
“We have a deep connection with our city and our readership,” said Tatge.
For additional information, contact Kelsey Tatge at (717) 991-1660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support quality local journalism. Become a Friend of TheBurg!